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A Reader Remembers The Depression – And How Her Government Helped Her Family Through It


We’ve been writing a bit about current public sentiment – best described, perhaps, as frantic; angry; suspicious; patient; optimistic with a peppery dose of humbled and “wondering what’s coming next” added for good measure.

We’ve been tested. We’re being tested. Not war-time tested or Depression tested, maybe, but still tested. People are hurting, livelihoods are threatened, some of us are losing friends and relatives. San Francisco’s venerable Cliff House closes for good at the end of the month, another sign of the changing times.

Our current crisis includes an economic component that has hit business owners and workers especially hard, with many having to dig deep to stay afloat. Some are hiring lawyers and suing their counties in order to keep their businesses open.

The better capitalized among them are trying to keep people on their payroll, with some workers accepting reductions in order to keep a job with a paycheck and health benefits. Others, of course, aren’t affected at all – and are off enjoying ski holidays or time out of state, or spending time at home with Netflix and well-stocked pantries.

As the economic crisis continues to deepen the concept of a basic income supplement for those trying to keep businesses and/or families afloat grows increasingly appealing – though any sort of federal help does not appear to be coming over the horizon anytime soon.

Except for a few multi-million dollar donations by well-heeled, well-meaning business sector types like Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Americans have had little help from their government for the better part of a year.

It wasn’t always so. During talks with many of our readers striving to make make things work during a hard-scrabble year we stumbled across a few who remember receiving personalized WPA care parcels delivered to their doors during their Great Depression.

“I was six so it was 1933 or thereabouts and I remember us kids being so excited – there were four of us and we never got anything,” said Brenda Jean Atwater of Concord. “My sisters ran to get my mother and we put the parcel, it was a crate actually, on the kitchen table. There were all these food parcels – mostly beans and flour, cooking things, enough for a family. And then there were these balloons inside for us kids…”

Brenda said that crate, stenciled with the logo of the Works Project Administration, was obviously assembled to sustain her family during difficult financial times – and was put together with care.

“The balloons. I remember the balloons,” she said. “Once, there was a little plastic truck for my brother. To this day I remember those letters – WPA – on the side of the crate.”

Now, historians and political scientists will argue the effectiveness of the New Deal and its related social programs, but it is plain from talking with those it helped that it left them with an indelible impression: that their government was there, and cared for them, during the worst of times.


  1. WPA. Public rose gardens. Those steep walkways ascending the Berkeley Hills. Real work. Food on the table. Sacrifice. Public service. Community! Succor in hard times. “Humanity?”

  2. With the exception of balloons, everything included in the government crate you can get from the food bank or a church food pantry. And it doesn’t cost the taxpayers a dime. Quit expecting the government to take care of you.

  3. Being poor in 1933 is a very different thing than being poor in 2020. Those young’uns who think they are in the worst of times should Google up Dorothea Lange and her pictures of the Great Depression. One famous and mesmerizing picture is of a migrant mother whose backstory was thinking about killing and cooking up some crows so her kids have something to eat. I certainly do not want to minimize the misery that many are facing, but at the same time in the Lamorinda area there are a lot of kids especially who just have no idea. I have of course had this talk with actual teenagers and it means nothing to them. They are in the worst of times.

  4. Every stripe of taxpayer supports feeding starving children. But that’s a far F A R cry from paying a slagard’s delinquent student loans…which is a perfect example of the twisted, selfish, self centered thinking of a particularly ignorant segment of society & pandering politician.

    • We can’t all be demented, right wing, neo con ex cops pulling down big salaries while posing as private investigators for an activist group funded by a particularly vile and ignorant segment of society.

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